As in most countries where Intellectual Property laws exist, there are four different categories in South Africa.
The term "intellectual property" denotes the specific legal rights which South African authors, inventors and other intellectual property holders may hold and exercise, and not the work itself.
South Africa is a member of the World Trade Organization, where there is a move to harmonize Intellectual Property laws throughout different jurisdictions.
The different types of Intellectual Property that are specifically covered by the Law in South Africa are:
- Copyright, which covers creative and artistic works (e.g. books, movies, music, paintings, photographs, and software) and gives a copyright holder the exclusive right to control reproduction or adaptation of such works for a certain period of time.
- Patent, which may be granted for a new, useful, and non-obvious invention, and gives the patent holder an exclusive right to commercially exploit the invention for a certain period of time (typically 20 years from the filing date of a patent application).
- Trademark, which is a distinctive sign, which is used to distinguish the products or services of different businesses.
- Industrial design right protects the form of appearance, style or design of an industrial object (e.g. spare parts, furniture, or textiles).
It can be argued that the following is also Intellectual Property, though there is no specific Act of Parliament in South Africa that covers:
- Trade secret, which is sometimes either equated with "confidential information", is secret, non-public information concerning the commercial practices or knowledge of a business, public disclosure of which may sometimes be illegal.
In South Africa, copyright differs from other forms of Intellectual Property in that it does not need to be registered. It is not possible to copyright an idea – it first has to be recorded in material form, in other words as the written word, a recording or an artistic work. Unless commissioned by a third party, copyright for a work belongs to its creator, and no one may use it without the owner’s permission.
It is sufficient to place a © with a name and the year at the foot of an article. Copyright for written works remains the property of the owner for 50 years after his/her death.
Patents may be granted for new inventions as long as the inventor meets with certain basic rules. A patent may be granted for any invention that proves novel and can be used in trade, industry or agriculture. If conferred the patent is normally valid for a period of twenty years.
In South Africa, patents are granted by the Patent Office at the Companies and Intellectual Property Registration Office in Pretoria.
A Trademark is generally a brand name, a logo or a slogan – examples are Coca Cola, the apple of Apple Computers and “Everything keeps going right” of Toyota. In the case of Coca Cola the shape of the bottle is also a distinctive feature. Each of these provides a clear-cut uniqueness in the marketplace.
Once a trademark has been registered with CIPRO a registration certificate is issued, and the owner has the exclusive right to that trademark forever as long as it is renewed every ten years.
The fourth form of Intellectual Property covered by an Act of Parliament in South Africa is the Design. Two types of design may be registered, aesthetic designs and functional designs.
Aesthetic designs have to be new and original, and there must be beauty is in their shape, configuration or ornamentation, and they must be able to be produced by an industrial process.
Functional designs have to be new and not commonplace, their shape or configuration is necessitated by their function, and they must also be able to be produced by an industrial process.